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Ai Fiori Is Zagat’s Top New Restaurant; Brooklyn’s Three Stars

October 05, 2011

Oct. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Three years after leaving Merrill Lynch & Co., Ahmass Fakahany saw his French-Italian dining room, Ai Fiori, named New York’s best new restaurant by the Zagat Survey today.

The citation came less than 24 hours after Ai Fiori won its first, coveted Michelin star.

Fakahany runs the restaurant, in The Setai Fifth Avenue hotel, with chef Michael White.

“Overall, the industry has stabilized and turned upwards,” said survey co-founder Tim Zagat. “It’s the best year since the recession for restaurants.”

Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin, which re-opened in September after a monthlong renovation, won Zagat’s top food honors for the second year in a row. Ripert’s temple to seafood also snatched the most-popular rating from Danny Meyer’s Gramercy Tavern, which now holds the number two spot, ahead of Meyer’s Union Square Cafe (No. 4) and his Eleven Madison Park (No. 5).

Thomas Keller’s Per Se continued its winning streak for the best-service and Asiate, its neighbor in the Time Warner Center, remained at the top of the decor category.

Google Purchase

This is the first edition of New York’s Zagat survey since Google Inc. purchased the guide this fall for an undisclosed amount.

Zagat collected the opinions of 41,604 diners, who ate out an average of three meals per week, down from 3.3 in 2008, 3.4 in 2006 and 3.5 in 2002.

Forty-three percent of the respondents said they never engage in group buying discounts, such as those offered by Groupon. Eighty-one percent said they don’t follow restaurants or food trucks via social media sites, and 49 percent said they have not downloaded restaurant-related apps on their smartphones.

Sixty-two percent said it’s “rude and inappropriate” to text, email, tweet or talk on their mobile phones at a restaurant, but 66 percent found that taking photos of food or companions is “acceptable in moderation.” Fifty-five percent said they shared their dining experiences, both good and bad, via websites, blogs and social media.

The average cost of dining at New York’s 20 most expensive restaurants rose to $163.34 per person. That’s a 5.5 percent hike, the biggest since 2007, when prices rose 11.1 percent.

Zagat said the increases were only partly related to inflation. “People will raise their price if they can get away with it, and these 20 most expensive restaurants are virtually all full,” he said.

In a sign that the New York restaurant industry is weathering the fragile economic recovery, there were only 68 restaurant closings in 2011, the lowest number since before 2002.

Michelin Speaks

Yesterday, Michelin made news by granting three stars to Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, in the annex of a supermarket.

Chef Cesar Ramirez’s venue is the only Brooklyn establishment to earn the highest honor of the “Guide Rouge.”

“Ramirez is an extremely talented and meticulous chef,” said the editor-in-chief of North America’s Michelin Guides. She declined to give her name, citing her responsibilities as one of the guide’s anonymous inspectors.

“What he does there night after night is very impressive, given that his audience is sitting right in front of him and there’s very little room for error.”

Eleven Madison Park also jumped in the rankings, from one star to three after the restaurant was overhauled last fall, moving to a prix-fixe-only format of $125 or $195 per person at dinner.

35 Courses

Brooklyn Fare, with a set menu of $185, made its debut on the list with two stars last year. Ramirez serves a 25-to-35 course feast to 18 guests every night. He specializes in small, composed bites of raw fish -- scrambled eggs with sea urchin and caviar or a tiny cube of bluefin tuna.

SHO Shaun Hergatt, the recipient of somewhat uneven reviews by Bloomberg News and the New York Times, is a new entrant to the two-star category. Earlier in September, the Australian-born Hergatt raised his dinner price by $10 to $85; diners now receive five courses instead of three. L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon was also promoted to two stars.

Michelin’s New York guide, which didn’t award any stars to Indian restaurants last year, now cites three: Junoon, Tamarind Tribeca and Tulsi. Kaiseki cuisine, which involves long and often complex Japanese tasting menus, received two new entrants from Tribeca: David Bouley’s Brushstroke, where meals cost $85 to $135, and Rosanjin, where guests can spend as much as $200 on dinner.

East Village

New entrants to the one-star category include Heartbreak, a European restaurant in the East Village, and Tori Shin, a yakitori spot on the Upper East Side.

Three stars means exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey; two stars are for excellent cooking, worth a detour; one star denotes a very good restaurant in its category.

Michelin & Cie. is the world’s second-biggest tire maker, after Bridgestone Corp. It produced its first guide in August 1900, distributed free (until 1920) and intended for chauffeurs.

--Editors: Jeremy Gerard, Daniel Billy.

To contact the writer of this column: Ryan Sutton in New York at or qualityrye on

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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